The CDE research report on ‘Skills, Growth, and Migration Policy – overcoming the fatal constraint’ released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise yesterday lists six instances of ‘faulty thinking’ about SA’s skills shortage. They are:

SA is only short of some skills. ‘In fact, we are short of skills across the board, including people with the skills to create more jobs.’

SA is experiencing a short-term emergency. ‘In fact, developing and retaining our own human capital will be a long-term process.’

Scarce skills can be recruited inside the country. ‘In fact, “scarce” means precisely that there aren’t enough skilled people in the country, and in the short term we will have to recruit them elsewhere.’

The fact that some graduates and matriculants are unemployed is due to a mismatch of skills. ‘In fact, many young people are unemployed because the education system has failed to provide them with the literacy, numeracy, and life skills they need to meet employers’ requirements.’

SA’s skills needs can be predicted in micro-managed categories and types. ‘In a modern emerging market economy this is a time-consuming, expensive and ultimately ridiculous exercise. In fact, we should be flooding the country with a very wide range of skills.’
Importing skills is a last resort. ‘In fact, importing skills can and should be a rational, well-managed strategy to compete vigorously in the global market for talent that will contribute to SA’s human capital and therefore to accelerated and shared economic growth.’

The report adds: ‘If we can rid ourselves of these myths, the way will be open for a more transparent and systematic debate about the role of immigration in addressing the skills crisis.’

Says CDE director Ann Bernstein: ‘In order to confront the full reality of our skills crisis we have to face the fact that South African education and training is in deep trouble. Fixing this will take a generation. What no-one in the current discussion on the skills shortage wants to deal with is: What do we do in the meantime? Every government policy and strategy – BEE, local government, employment equity – assumes that there are sufficient trained people to fill the jobs and manage the complicated processes required.’

Foreign skills are the quickest way to expand our skills base and develop our own human capital. Skilled foreigners will help to build SA as they have done in many other countries. They are not a threat against which South Africans have to be protected.